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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: County commission additions should make the ballot

Spokane County’s three commissioners should put a measure that would expand their number to five on the November ballot.

Two, Todd Mielke and Shelly O’Quinn, say they are ready to say yes July 20, when the commissioners will vote on the proposal. Al French has maintained neutrality until he finishes preparing an analysis.

That research can become part of the discussion of expansion’s pros and cons once the measure is in play. But if the commissioners do not act within the next few weeks, a vote for five commissioners may not be possible by November 2016.

The biggest challenge will be drawing boundaries for five districts. How that will be done, and on what timetable, is not yet clear. Because the districts will be smaller, moving a boundary a few blocks can shift the perceived advantage to one party’s candidate versus the other.

A new map might even create a district that does not split the city of Spokane – and its more liberal voters – three ways. The potential result: an opening for a Democrat!

The incumbent commissioners, who have the final say, will want first of all to protect their seats.

But protecting the incumbents, or opening the way for a Democrat or two, is less important than splitting a heavy workload five ways instead of three, and giving more citizens access to their representative on the county’s governing body. Local politics should be retail. In Spokane County’s large districts, wholesale is more like it.

Washington’s other large counties have already recognized the unrealistic burden imposed on small commissions. King, Snohomish, Pierce and, this year, Clark County, have adopted charter forms of government that put as many as nine on their county councils. Given the balkanization of municipal governments in Spokane County, a change to charter government is unlikely until the cost of duplicating services finally brings voters around to the idea.

The other problem is the ridiculous predicament two commissioners – a quorum – are put in every time they so much as walk down the sidewalk together. That’s a no-no unless the public receives notification of a public meeting.

Adding two commissioners would let any two discuss issues informally; everyday practice in business and government.

Earlier this year, French alleged telephone calls between O’Quinn and Mielke were icing him out of discussions related to the Spokane Transit Authority bond measure.

And the process of hiring a new county chief executive officer was a fiasco that might not have happened if there had been four commissioners voting.

There will be added costs but those would be insignificant within an overall budget of more than $400 million. And if citizens have a problem with expenses, they will have two more commissioners to bark at.

Let them vote on it.

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